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December 2007: Fountain Pens: An Oasis of Calm, for Some of Us

Extra Fine Points Index  ]

BY DON FLUCKINGER • It’s just a pen. We’re just weekend warriors collecting pens, hobbyists, most of us unwillingly thrust into a technology-rich world of which we must take part in order to survive our day jobs. You know? Given our druthers, we’d like to cast our BlackBerrys into the sea like they do on those goofy Corona commercials — where they make a point to say that such behavior is classified as “miles away from the ordinary.”

Of course we can’t smash our computer mice with hammers, or force our colleagues at work to just take a few more seconds before they blast out thoughtless — or at least poorly thought-out — emails, let alone abandon email and instant messaging altogether and write better put-together notes by hand and deliver them in person instead of hiding behind a monitor and letting the flames fly.

We don’t need to move to some seaside haven to catch a breather. Far more sensibly, we just need to power down the PC, sit down, ink up our favorite stick, and chill out with some quality paper. Just for a while. That’s the ticket. Extra Fine Points

But we’d like to. At least sometimes.

The one thing we pen collectors can control is our downtime, and how we spend it. And if you’re at this page, reading this essay, clearly, you understand the value of sitting down at a nice writing desk — or barring that, the kitchen table — and taking time to write. With a pen. A fountain pen. Perhaps your favorite is a classic vintage “51” that puts down the exactly right fineness (or boldness) of line.

Perhaps you’re the modern sort, who enjoys the Montblancs or Montegrappas or Bexleys or Pelikans. Maybe you like the Dorics, or Balances old and new. Or Big Reds or flex-nibbed Watermans. Or if you’re me, Wearevers and Sheaffer Targas and the 1950s gold-capped Snorkels or their Vac-fil Crest aunts and uncles.

What is it, then, that brings us to this place, where we just sit, and write, with anachronistic devices?

Lately I’ve been rereading Future Shock, Alvin Toffler’s 1970 gloom-and-doom cultural analysis that coined “information overload,” a phrase that’s sadly still with us. I am no Toffler freak; in general I feel that, in hindsight, this supposedly great work’s somewhat overrated and maybe doesn’t deserve its place in the pantheon of technological analysis that the editors of WIRED magazine would have us believe.

Yet, the man was eerily Nostradamus-like in his ideas. In one chapter he goes to great lengths describing the concept of “overchoice,” where industry — and the marketing forces behind it — pinpoint consumer demand for so many new products that we become overwhelmed by a progressively dizzying number of choices when we attempt to purchase anything.

It boils down to the same issue Joe Jackson sang about almost 20 years ago in a song titled “It’s All Too Much”:

I hate this supermarket
But I have to say it makes me think
A hundred mineral waters
It’s fun to guess which ones are safe to drink
Two hundred brands of cookies
87 kinds of chocolate chip
They say that choice is freedom
I’m so free it drives me to the brink

The other issue Toffler nails on the head is our tolerance for technological change, or more precisely, our lack thereof. I’m not getting old or turning into a Luddite, yet. But this year’s been brutal, a forced transition to Windows Vista that isn’t ending well. Toffler envisioned a future where over-tech’ed people would retreat to cockamamie villages where television was limited to an hour a day and other media exposure would be slashed to a faucet drip. That ain’t happening in this era of wireless Internet, nor should it. Yet perhaps he was on to something.

We don’t need to move to some seaside haven to catch a breather. Far more sensibly, we just need to power down the PC, put the cell on “airplane mode,” sit down, ink up our favorite stick, and chill out with some quality paper. Just for a while. That’s the ticket.

This holiday season, whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Solstice, whatever … take the time to write. Greetings to family, friends, maybe even to those work colleagues who can’t pull their faces out of their BlackBerrys, laptops and cell phones for a goshdarned minute. They might not appreciate the notes you write, but you will — especially if you’ve put away some excellent writing papers for such an occasion.

And that’s what matters.

Go ahead. You don’t have to explain yourself, at least to me.

cover cover Further reading: Future Shock and Revolutionary Wealth, by Alvin and Heidi Toffler

Want to dive into Future Shock? Check it out. Or maybe you want Toffler’s more recent book Revolutionary Wealth (2007), which explores the notion of all the unwitting voluntary stuff we’re doing to support mega-multi-national corporations in the 21st century economy. The choice (or overchoice) is yours.

Freelance writer Don Fluckinger lives in Nashua, New Hampshire, and is the son-in-law of Richard Binder. His articles have been published in Antiques Roadshow Insider, The Boston Globe, and on the collectibles Web site. Please note: Any opinions stated in this column are Don’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Richard Binder or this Web site. Don Fluckinger
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